Encyclopedia of Arkansas Minute

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The Encyclopedia of Arkansas Minute features the history of Arkansas as told through the entries of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas is a program of the Central Arkansas Library System Butler Center for Arkansas Studies.

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A pair of Searcy County twins played a significant role in the folk revival of the mid-twentieth century.

Abbie Sherman Morrison and Absie Sheridan Morrison were born in 1876, the sons of a Civil War veteran who served in both armies but favored the Union, giving his sons the names of Yankee generals as their middle names.

Anyone who has driven up Highway 65 in Central Arkansas has doubtless noticed the work of African American stonemason Silas Owens.

Torii Hunter, born in Pine Bluff in 1975, had one of the greatest baseball careers of any Arkansan who played the game. A natural athlete, Hunter gravitated toward baseball after a home run in a Little League game at age 13 led to reporters interviewing him.

He was the first draft pick for the Minnesota Twins in 1993, playing with them until the California Angels wooed him away with a ninety million dollar contract in 2007. He later played two seasons with the Detroit Tigers before returning to the Twins.

A cross-dressing Confederate guerrilla pulled off a remarkable subterfuge to give his men a memorable Christmas present in 1864.

Howell A. “Doc” Rayburn, born in 1841, joined the Twelfth Texas Cavalry in October 1861, traveling to Des Arc the following March to board steamboats to cross the Mississippi.

Fred Marshall, born in Memphis and raised in Little Rock, was a talented musician, sculptor, inventor and educator, but is best know for his work on a classic Christmas cartoon.

Marshall, whose mother taught art at Arkansas Tech University, began playing piano at five and was playing bass and drums by the time he went to Little Rock Central High. As a teenager he played at jazz clubs on Ninth Street, remembering that he would hide behind his bass when police entered: “Not only was I underage, I was a white man playing in a black club.”

Cold War tensions led to a nuclear weapon test being named for the Natural State.

Following the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, the Soviet Union announced in August 1961 that it would resume atmospheric testing after a three-year moratorium; the U.S. followed suit in October. The United States conducted thirty-six nuclear tests in the Pacific as part of Operation Dominic.

On December 22nd, 1956, Arkansas hosted the first national championship football game of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

Arkansas beat efforts by three other states to land the event, in part because the Louisiana legislature passed a law banning integrated sporting events in the state.

The Little Rock Chamber of Commerce worked with the Aluminum Company of America and Reynolds Metals Company to raise the fifty-thousand dollar fee to pay the CBS television network for hosting rights to what would be known as the Aluminum Bowl.

The spring of 1937 witnessed some of the worst flooding in Arkansas history. January saw nearly thirteen inches of rain fall in Arkansas – eight inches above normal – and similar downpours in other states dropped 165 billion tons of water along the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys.

Two Arkansas National Guard units – the Two Hundred Sixth Coast Artillery and One Hundred Fifty Third Infantry Regiments – fought World War II in an often-overlooked arena of the Pacific Theater: Alaska.

On January 31st, 1897, the Arkansas Gazette reported on a “horrible monster” terrorizing Searcy County.

Called the gowrow based on its horrifying roar, the beast had been slaughtering cattle until a posse tracked it to its cave, littered with human and animal remains, and killed the beast with several volleys of rifle fire, but not before the twenty-foot long, fearsomely tusked gowrow ripped the leg from a posse member.

Woodruff County’s Anita Blackmon wrote more than one thousand short stories and several novels, including mysteries in the “had I but known” school.

Born in Augusta in 1892, Blackmon published her first short stories in 1922 under her married name, Mrs. Harry Pugh Smith, but she would publish her novels using her maiden name. Blackmon’s work was published in Love Story Magazine, Cupid’s Diary and Detective Tales, as well as in serialized versions in the Arkansas Democrat and Arkansas Gazette.

A fake documentary shot for one hundred sixty thousand dollars in 1972 would gross more than twenty million and bring fame to a small south Arkansas town.

Flood control efforts in northeast Arkansas’s Sunken Lands yielded an engineering marvel: The Marked Tree Siphons.

Drainage District Number Seven in Poinsett County was formed in 1917 to help regulate flooding of the Saint Francis River. The Steep Gut Floodway, lock and sluiceway were completed in 1926, but seven years later forty feet of the sluiceway dropped and part of the levee collapsed when the fine sand at its base washed away.

At seven thousand acres, Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge offers a resting place for migratory birds as well as a permanent home for hundreds of species.

The area housing Holla Bend was created in 1954 when an Arkansas River flood control project straightened a section of the river and created an island between the old and new channels. It was turned over to the Department of the Interior three years later to serve as a wildlife refuge.

A pair of colleges in Arkadelphia have maintained a rivalry since 1895 with an annual football game dubbed “The Battle of the Ravine.”

Ouachita Baptist and Henderson State University are located across Highway 67 from each other, making their annual meeting the only game in the country where the visiting team walks across the street for the competition. Some of the scores have been one-sided, with Ouachita winning 66 to zero in 1919 and Henderson taking the 1932 game 62 to nothing.

The wilds of Washington County near Strickler are home to an unusual facility: a decommissioned nuclear reactor.

The Southwest Experimental Fast Oxide Reactor, or SEFOR, was completed in 1969 to test whether breeder reactors, which use fast neutrons to create more fuel than they consume, could be used to produce electricity. Though it never achieved that purpose, SEFOR did show that plutonium could be used as reactor fuel instead of uranium.

Mississippi County Community College – now Arkansas Northeastern College – was once in the vanguard of solar energy use.

In 1976, the U.S. Department of Energy chose the fledgling campus to receive the Total Energy Solar Photovoltaic Conversion System, which would generate electricity and hot water. Through the $8.8 million project, 270 solar collectors, each measuring twenty by seven feet, were installed, and the main building was designed with vaulted glass ceilings and wind-breaking devices for energy efficiency.

A 1905 fire devastated downtown Hot Springs and brought a new look to the town’s architecture. Hot Springs was a tourist mecca in the early 1900s, with some coming for the healing waters and others for the rampant illegal activities.

Arkansas artist Adrian Brewer was initially reluctant to accept a commission on what became his most famous painting. Little Rock insurance man Clyde E. Lowry approached Brewer about painting the American flag “when the wind had died down and the gentle folds took their natural place.” Brewer had a thriving practice painting commissioned portraits of prominent Arkansans, but ended up accepting Lowry’s offer.

A Camden furniture merchant was responsible for a phrase we see every time we open our wallets. Matt Rothert, Sr., was born in Indiana in 1904 and moved to Camden twenty years later. He founded the Camden Furniture Company, serving as its president until he retired in 1975. But his true love was coin collecting, a passion he developed when he found his father’s old coins.

Union Civil War veterans formed a fraternal organization after the war that had a surprisingly strong presence in Arkansas. The first Grand Army of the Republic post was founded in Illinois in 1866, and African American veterans formed some of the earliest posts in Arkansas around the same time.

While it was likely a stunt to promote tourism in the area, the short-lived Ozark Golden Wedding Jubilee did recognize long-term marriages as couples renewed their vows. Sponsored by the Rogers Chamber of Commerce, the jubilee celebrated fifty-year marriages while also recognizing a newlywed “honor couple” that would get a week-long honeymoon in Rogers.

Arkansas was one of the first states to recognize a married woman’s right to own property, but it took a half century. Common law held that a married woman’s property would pass to her husband, which concerned fathers who feared their daughters’ bequests could be squandered by worthless husbands. The Territorial Legislature recognized women’s rights to own property in 1835, but the law did not pass into statehood. Governor Archibald Yell vetoed a property law in 1840, fearing that giving women rights would destroy the family.

Arkansas law barred interracial relationships from the territorial period up to the twentieth century, when the U.S. Supreme Court overruled such laws. The Arkansas General Assembly banned miscegenation in 1837, but the law was laxly enforced because of the small number of free blacks in the state. That law was overturned during Reconstruction, and many interracial couples married during the period.

Marion Noble, born at Garner in White County in 1911, was one of three Arkansas men who served in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.

Noble’s father was a railroad worker known for treating black and white colleagues equally. After he lost his job, he opened a car repair business where young Marion worked as a mechanic.

Kessler vs. Strecker, a 1939 deportation case, reached the Supreme Court of the United States and continues to be cited in cases involving undocumented immigrants.

Hot Springs restaurant owner Joseph Strecker immigrated to the U.S. in 1912 and applied for citizenship in 1933. He was arrested for having donated sixty cents to a Communist presidential candidate the year before and ordered deported.

Born at Pearson in Cleburne County in 1880, Clay Fulks became a notable figure in the limited history of radical leftism in Arkansas.

Arkansas was once home to one of the largest manufacturers of church furniture in the world. Claude H. Turney opened Turney Wood Products in his Harrison garage in 1946, building furniture for the nearby First Church of the Nazarene.

Using red and white oak harvested in the Ozark Mountains, Turney Wood Products built furniture that was going into one thousand churches annually by the mid-1960s when the firm boasted of being “the largest exclusive church furniture manufacturer in the western hemisphere.”

With her 1977 ordination at Little Rock’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Dr. Peggy Sue Bosmyer became the first female Episcopal priest south of the Mason Dixon Line.

Born in Helena on July 26th, 1948, Bosmyer had served as a deacon in Pine Bluff and an intern curate in Little Rock prior to her ordination. While some said women priests would “tear apart the Church” and one Episcopal leader stated that “we’ve never had a woman priest back to year one,” Arkansas Bishop Christoph Keller Jr. said Bosmyer’s priesthood emphasized “not the maleness but the humanity of Jesus Christ.”

Actor-comedian turned evangelist Joe Jeffers brought turmoil to Jonesboro’s Baptist community, leading to brawls, gunfights and a fatal shooting.

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